Sociopolitical Threats, Belonging and Racialized Naturalization in the United States from 1907-1952

Lauren Duquette-Rury, Wayne State University

Before racial restrictions to naturalization ended in 1952, becoming a citizen through naturalization meant becoming white by law. Racially ambiguous immigrant groups not perceived as “white on arrival” or Black had their cases adjudicated in the US courts systems. Since racial prerequisites also determined immigrant admissions (“aliens ineligible to naturalize” were barred entry), a system of racialized naturalization emerged in which Whiteness was naturalized as belonging to the national political community and racially ambiguous groups were treated as unassimilable outsiders. Mexican immigrants occupied a racially ambiguous status in the US and endured acute and chronic nativism, xenophobia, and racial resentment that accompanied it. Although they were eligible for citizenship in provisions described in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and a landmark civil rights case In Re Rodriguez, up until 1930 when the federal government deemed Mexicans racially White, many Mexicans naturalization petitions were denied. This paper examines how threatening sociopolitical contexts including border enforcement, interior deportations and repatriation, and racial discrimination through 1952 affected Mexican prospects for naturalization. Why did some Mexicans pursue citizenship despite the odds? Why did others who were eligible forego naturalization altogether, even if it safeguarded their families from deportation? Using archival materials and an examination of naturalization rates from 1907 to 1952, this paper begins to unpack the variation in the effects of sociopolitical threats on the acquisition of citizenship.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 113. Presidential Session: Contexts of Reception in Global and Historical Perspective